Female Soldiers' Private War

Women constitute the fastest growing group of U.S. war veterans, according to a Memorial Day opinion article in the New York Times For Women Warriors, Deep Wounds, Little Care. According to Helen Benedict, a Columbia University professor and the article's author, women currently account for 15 percent of U.S. active duty forces. By 2020, women are forecast to make up 20 percent of all veterans under age 45.

Like all women entering a male-dominated workplace, female soldiers face unique, unanticipated challenges.

But one of the toughest facing women in the U.S. military is sexual abuse and harassment from fellow service members. Nearly a third of female veterans say they were sexually assaulted or raped while in the military, according to Benedict. More than 70 percent report being sexually harassed by male colleagues. Benedict's numbers seem high for any workplace; abuse and harassment figures are notoriously hard to prove. But even if these numbers are aberrantly high, and don't accurately reflect the military overall, any degree of widespread internal abuse against women creates a double-whammy: a hostile work atmosphere within an undeniably hostile war atmosphere.

Compounding the problem, the Department of Veterans Affairs seems woefully unprepared to treat women's unique post-traumatic stress needs after tours have ended, with only six inpatient programs specifically designed for women, and only 22 stand-alone women's clinics for the 191,500 servicewomen sent to the Middle East since 2001. This lack of post-traumatic treatment is particularly troubling given a survey by the RAND Corporation, released last month, that found women suffer higher rates of post-traumatic stress and depression than men.

Our involvement in Iraq -- or any country -- is every American's war. No soldier, male or female, should be alone and unprotected while serving our country or when they come home. So why does our military offer such inadequate support for women, during and after service? Have you or a family member experienced this neglect? Does Helen Benedict have the full story here? What can we do to change the work environment for female members of our country's military?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  May 28, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Workplaces
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Great topic that hits a bit too close to home for me to comment.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 7:47 AM

I'd like to see the statistics teased out a bit. Given the harassment incidents at the military academics, is one branch better or worse than other? For example, is the Coast Guard better than the Army?

Further, I can imagine it may depend on your immediate supervisor. The military supports chain of command sometimes to a fault.

Come on military people. Talk anonymously.

Posted by: dotted | May 28, 2008 8:12 AM

I've put up with my share of sexual/off color/anti-female comments, shrugging them off as "consider the source". Had male bosses demonstrate their clear disdain for females in the military, but staying far enough on the other side of the line to not lose their career. Over time I've never known any female encounter more than that in AF and Navy assignments. I've had some terrific medical care and some incredibly bad medical care. On the whole, I've had over 22 years of incredible career and life experiences in the military. Sure, I've been fortunate compared to the stories being reported. And I remind myself daily when I hug my kids that I did what I promised years ago -- I served so the people I loved could grow up free.

Posted by: AF Mom | May 28, 2008 9:10 AM

I find those statistics too high. I did a research paper on Israeli women and their experiences in the military. Their circumstance is unique because Israel is the only democratic nation to conscript women into service. Their rates of sexual harassment were high but they coped by taking on the male characteristics. When I compared to the U.S., I found the rules much stricter here and they were definitely more widely enforced. I also consulted with current and former military members (including men and women and my family) and they all concurred that harassment is not tolerated. Any complaint submitted is thoroughly investigated and the men accused may have their careers tarnished forever, even if the complaint is found to be unsubstantiated. Of course harassment exists; I am not saying it doesn't. I simply didn't find the kind of rates this author did when I did my comparative study. The care received after they come home is abysmal and should be addressed, but claiming that 7 out of 10 women in the military are raped is too sensational and makes the argument lose steam.

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 28, 2008 9:14 AM

Correction- 7 out of 10 women say they are harassed and 3 out of 10 say they are raped. I put 7 out of 10 reported being raped. These numbers still seem too high and the author makes the military seem flippant to the charge of sexual assault. I agree with the above poster that the statistics need to be fleshed out.

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 28, 2008 9:18 AM

let me preface this with... I know nothing about women in the military.

I have seen a number of reports over the years in Canada and the US that state that 1 in 4 girls have been sexually assaulted/abused by the time they reach 18. So if 25% of the general population of young women have been assaulted, it doesn't seem so far fetched that 3 in 10 women in the military have been sexually assaulted.

Posted by: Billie_R | May 28, 2008 9:28 AM

Interesting observation Billie_R. However, it is not possible to generalize from the total population to the subset of the military. The military does not reflect the general population. Even differences within the military can be stark, as from enlisted to commissioned officers demographics show. It is as if the military is a town with its own demographics and a sample needs to be taken there to determine the number of assaults occuring. It could be 25% of women in the U.S., but maybe 50% of the women in housing projects have been assaulted and only 3% in a small town in Iowa.

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 28, 2008 9:46 AM

I agree that the subject of harassment and abuse (whether it is of adult women in the military, or young girls) is A) difficult to discuss and B) critical to discuss.

In general, our country has come a long way in the past 30-40 years, in terms of developing a culture where abuse of women and girls is not widely tolerated.

However, there are noteworthy exceptions, and unfortunately many of us have experienced harassment, abuse and rape. It is totally conceivable to me that Benedict's numbers are accurate for the population she studied -- and also possibly that the numbers for the military overall are lower.

Anyone who tries to dismiss or disregard the longterm affects of abuse (at work, home or school or wherever it occurs) doesn't truly understand how destructive and demoralizing it can be. Especially when you are coerced or forced into pretending it didn't happen or didn't hurt you. Abuse is bad enough, but denial is its own kind of demon.

Posted by: Leslie | May 28, 2008 9:53 AM

Concerning the VA, I have talked with a few female veterans and I know that they are getting the short end of what is a very short stick to begin with. I know what I am going to do, I will address this with my congressman when I see him next--probably this weekend.

As far as active duty females, this is where a strong parent/child relationship or a mentor can come into play. Although the troops are nominally adults, at 18 & 21 they still have much they have not seen or experienced in this world. A strong relationship as a parent or as a mentor can give the military member a resource to understand what actions should be undertaken. A parent or mentor can more fully explain the ramification of a course of action and viable options. (Here I am talking about harassment of various kinds--assault has only one path i.e. to be reported.)

Junior enlisted should be encouraged to seek out and use the mentoring of a senior enlisted woman. Parents, even if they were not in the military, can help by listening to their daughter and understanding that the world of the military does not necessarily have the same procedures and channels for addressing harassment but the channels do exist.

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 9:55 AM

Nice post Fred

How do military channels differ from non-military channels for reporting harassment?

Posted by: dotted | May 28, 2008 10:05 AM


I am not totally up to date on the channels to report harassment as I have not been in for, some few years. I do know from the parents' orientation that we have attended and from what AF dau tells me, there is a much more formal definition of duties and responsibilities.

There was really nothing formal when I was in. But then again, nurses were about the only females in uniform we ever saw. Certainly, I never saw a female military police as my daughter is.

Maybe some one who is active will fill us in?

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 10:14 AM

Fred -- I think your comments are particularly apt. Many of the women enlisting are very young. This may be their first overseas experience and their first work experience. This may make them particularly vulnerable. They need everyone's support. Parents, yes; but also from colleagues, superiors, the VA, and of course our government.

Posted by: Leslie | May 28, 2008 10:19 AM

I don't think we will change situation until women become fully integrated into the male-dominated culture of the military. Women want and deserve equal treatment, but we face a male-dominated culture that views us as either lesser, or in need of coddling. And some women want coddling, which makes us all look bad. I was a military woman, and I now work in the VA. I saw plenty of women who wanted to be in the military, but also wanted special treatment to stay with their kids, or avoid onerous work. You can't have it both ways. You must choose. I also saw women whose husbands stayed home with the kids while their wives worked as hard as the men in the military. But they always had to choose.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 28, 2008 10:21 AM

USAFA Class of 1979. LCWB. Google it. Look in Wikipedia.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 10:25 AM

Babsy1 -- I have a lot of respect for your opinions but in this case I politely disagree. And without attacking you, I question the unconscious bias of your phrase "women want it both ways." Because this is classic blame-the-victim language, implying that women are somehow spoiled and capricious in wanting to serve our country and be good mothers, simultaneously.

Why can't the system bend to support women's very natural, and laudable, desire to serve the military AND take care of young children? I think it is barbaric -- and totally unAmerican -- to expect women to abandon their young children for an indefinite period of time. (As an aside, I also think it's pretty harsh to expect men to do the same!)

Surely our brilliant military minds can come up with a flexible option for parents with children under a certain age.

Posted by: Leslie | May 28, 2008 10:28 AM

Wow, Anonymous @ 10:25. That really says it all. With an attitude like that, it's no wonder your kind take the harassment and assault of women as your due, and theirs.

Posted by: BxNY | May 28, 2008 10:35 AM

Off Topic but Important!

This goes back to my lovely wife's guest blog on cancer. (April 30, 2008) I commented on pending legislation that would outlaw discrimination based on the results of genetic testing. This is now law.

From Whitehouse.gov

"President George W. Bush signs H.R. 493, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, Wednesday, May 21, 2008, in the Oval Office. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act would prevent health insurers from canceling, denying, refusing to renew, or changing the terms or premiums of coverage based solely on a genetic predisposition toward a specific disease. The legislation also bars employers from using individuals' genetic information when making hiring, firing, promotion, and other employment-related decisions."

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 10:47 AM

My grandfather and 3 uncles were in the military (and one cousin so far)... different branches and different sides of the family.
If I put together the scathing remarks by my grandfather and other local military and former military when they first allowed women at VMI
and the statistics showing that members of the military skew more strongly to the conservative side than the general population, I have no problem believing the part about harrassment and hostile work environment.
I would like to see the definitions of assault and rape used in the study and the numbers for rape/ coercion alone. Anyone know those?

Posted by: enkafiles | May 28, 2008 10:47 AM

Posted by: KLB SS MD | May 28, 2008 10:59 AM

OOPS - I tried to put something inside of special characters and it didn't work.
STANDING OVATION for the legislation.

Posted by: KLB SS MD | May 28, 2008 11:02 AM

Leslie, I take great offense to your post on how the military can bend to accomodate everything, person, situation. It is your complete and utter lack of understanding of anything military related that makes this topic so easily dismissive when moderated by someone like you.

Having said that, these problems are real and must be dealt with. Changing the entire structure of the military is not an option. There are steps that can and should be taken, but please don't use sarcastic language like "our brilliant military." It undermines your arguement and makes you look like the liberal elitist you are.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 11:05 AM

Leslie, I agree with your points about not downplaying what is happening to women. I hope you do not read that into my posts. Though this is not the place, I know very personally where these women are coming from. I want nothing more for them than to get the counseling and help they need and deserve. My point of contention is about the study. It is also very true that military men strongly resisted the inclusion of women into the ranks. It also happened when the military was integrated under Eisenhower. The military, like any institution, is naturally opposed to change. However, as the change takes place and becomes institutionalized, that aversion starts to subside and today's military men are nowhere near the past men who so disdained women coming into their sphere. These men and women put their lives on the line and support each other. I don't have the data but I'm sure this working together lessens these incidents, especially when you compare to those militaries using rape as a weapon. Finally, I agree that women should not have to choose. Men have never chosen, their wives were always with their children. Now they both have to make tradeoffs for their families. It is wrong to put the unfairness of the system on the shoulders of women, and women especially, should know better.

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 28, 2008 11:08 AM

Helen Benedict (the New York Times article author) asked me to post her comment:

"One cannot, alas, encapsulate an entire book in an op-ed piece, but the book I have been working on since 2006, The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq, answers all your questions and more.

I devote an entire chapter to suggestions for how the military can improve its treatment of women, and discuss at length the culture within the military that is exacerbating the problem.

But in brief, we must start with education.

Studies have shown that commanders who ban pornography, treat their female soldiers with respect and insist that other soldiers do likewise significantly reduce sexual persecution.

Therefore, all officer training schools, from West Point to the humblest ROTC, should teach their candidates to understand that rape is an act of anger, hatred, and power, not of out-of-control lust, and that sexual harassment and assault destroy camaraderie and cohesion.

Instead of permitting the hazing and abuse that exists now, officer schools should teach their candidates to take pride in ensuring that all their soldiers are safe from disrespect and violence by their comrades.

In 2007, the DOD reported that about 90 percent of active duty troops said they received such training and thought it effective. But most of the soldiers I have interviewed say the military remains more interested in protecting their male soldiers from scandal than their female soldiers from assault. The training offered now should be reviewed by civilian experts and revamped."

Helen Benedict
Columbia University

Posted by: From Helen Benedict/Posted by Leslie | May 28, 2008 11:11 AM

To anonymous at 10:58:
No, "conservatives" don't condone harassment and a hostile work environment.
What I meant was this - and I realize I shouldn't have used shorthand:
* Members of the military are, on average, more conservative than the general population.
* The more conservative one is socially, the more likely to hold conservative views on gender roles and "The Proper Place for Women" and, in my experience, be upset/outraged at women invading the last preserve of "Real Men".
So, in my opinion and experience, more conservative
= *more likely* to feel that women do not belong in active duty or even in the military at all
= *more likely* to be hostile to women who *are* in the military with you
= *more likely* to be openly hostile and/or harassing toward women (this includes crude humor) and, in extreme cases, assault and rape them.

Posted by: enkafiles | May 28, 2008 11:16 AM

Anon at 11:05 -- exaggeration gets you no where!

I don't think the military should "accomodate everything."

I've set the bar pretty low in asking the military to work to end sexual harassment and rape, and to support women in our desire to earn a living, serve our country, and responsibly raise our children.

Let's keep talking -- but let's also keep the discussion grounded in reality, not hyperbole.

Posted by: Leslie | May 28, 2008 11:19 AM

Wow, I could comment extensively on this subject, except that my experiences as a young Woman Marine occurred 30 years ago.

It was interesting that the same sort of treatment I got in the Marine Corps continued in my civilian life due to the mostly male dominated career path I chose. The difference was that I could and DID fight back as a civilian. There was still retaliation, but I had no fear of being arrested, demoted or fined for my "insubordination".

Eventually I noticed that the "boys" treated each other almost as badly as they treated me and I learned to ignore them.

Supervisors, however, were another story. One supervisor grabbed my backside and said I shouldn't wear such tight jeans (tight jeans are an invitation to be grabbed? Who knew?). Same supervisor looked me right in the eye during a performance review and stated that women do not have the mental capabilities to understand higher mathmatics. During the time he KNEW I was acing Calculus in my college classes at night.

I could go on and on, but eventually as I gained experience in my career I also gained confidence and learned to stand up for myself.

OK, OK, this is going on too long. Didn't I say so at the beginning? ;-)

Posted by: OldBAM | May 28, 2008 11:24 AM

I was going to stand on the sidelines, but Leslie I must respectfully disagree with your phrase "brilliant military minds" and your disagreements with babsy1. The military infrastructure struggles from the decisions made a decade ago (anyone remember force reductions and thinking that the end of the cold war meant we needed a smaller military?). The military faces the juggle of two career military families, single parents (both genders) and a myriad of other personnel issues. The military is so lean these days that if every person were a special case there would even more problems trying to fairly rotate soldiers. Did my friend enjoy leaving her 3 month old twins for her rotation? Of course not - but she signed up to serve her country. My two cents.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | May 28, 2008 11:29 AM

My opinion: we have the right to expect the most from the military management who set policies and make decisions about the incredible brave and generous people who serve in our military forces.

We let everyone down by being overly understanding about the limits of military bureaucracy.

I don't think anyone should be forced to leave three month old twins -- or other young children -- to serve their country. There must be a more humane solution that still meets our military defense needs. Why should our armed forces suffer even more than they already do?

Posted by: Leslie | May 28, 2008 11:38 AM

Hey OldBAM,

I saw a personalized plate the other day, USMCBAM.

Perhaps you know that my sainted mother was a Beautiful American Marine also!

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 11:41 AM

To anonymous at 11:33:

I know, work with, am related to, go to church with some "real conservative men". Stated clearly that I was using *my own* experience to form *my own* opinion.
Also, I just deleted the rest of my post. Show your face/name or quit trolling.

Posted by: enkafiles | May 28, 2008 11:42 AM

enkamenka, I can troll anywhere I please. You can opine anywhere you please, but don't get all crazy when you are called on your illogical arguements.

I "know" plenty of conservative men that are the anti-thesis of your description. I also have my doubts that you can accuratley assess someone's demeanor towards women, the military, women in the military and their roles in society in general.

A little history lesson, it was the Republican Party (the true conservatives) that got the 19th amendment passed in 1920, allowing women the right to vote in every state. Perhaps your friends are RINO's and not real conservatives.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 11:51 AM

Uh, Coast Guard is NOT part of the military. They're under the DHS.

Posted by: Bryan | May 28, 2008 11:53 AM

Leslie, I will ask the question again that was erased how are woman being forced to do anything when they volunteer?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 11:55 AM

FYI, "sexual assault" does not necessarily indicate "rape". "Sexual assault" can include many non-rape forms of sexual abuse or even sexual touching. Just grabbing a woman's breast constitutes a form of sexual assault.

So, some of you need to get off your high horse of "There's no way 3 out of 10 women were raped!!!!".

Posted by: Ryan | May 28, 2008 11:56 AM

"'The more conservative one is socially, the more likely to hold conservative views on gender roles . . .'
You have given into some pretty inappropriate stereotypes and obviously do not know any real conservative men."

Ummm, really? Gee, here I thought that the very definition of "socially conservative" was someone who believed in traditional gender roles.

I do know a number of conservative men, and I also know a number of military men. One of my family members taught at the USNA for a number of years, and various other family members and friends have served. I don't think it's any surprise to suggest that the military runs more conservative than society at large. And just drawing on my own personal experience, many of those conservatives are "social conservatives," or "traditionalists," or whatever -- regardless of the terminology, they believed very strongly that it was the man's job to protect the woman, and the women's job to raise a family and support the men. Heck, part of the reason these guys joined was because they took very seriously their obligation as a man to protect their families and countries. Not surprisingly, they were also by and large strongly opposed to women being in the military in anything other than an administrative/support role -- they feared their responsibility to protect women would interfere with their responsibility to protect their country if those women were on the front lines with them.

I would never suggest that holding these beliefs would necessarily lead one to harass women (and enkafiles didn't say that, either, btw). The military men I've known are honorable men who take very seriously their duty to treat others with respect. But it's not exactly a logical leap to assert that men who don't think women belong in the military are statistically more likely to react negatively against the women who join than are men who do think women belong there. Or that a self-selecting society where the "women don't belong" belief predominates may end up with a higher proportion of harassment and assault against women than society at large.

But, of course, if you have data to the contrary, I'd love to see it.

Posted by: Laura | May 28, 2008 12:09 PM

I do know that, Fred. You reminded me once that BAM does NOT stand for anything crude. :-)

Posted by: OldBAM | May 28, 2008 12:10 PM

Just talking with AF dau a bit about deployments, women and babies. AF deployments last from 4 to 6 months at numerous overseas bases.

In fact, on her last deployment, she went with men and women who all had babies under 1 year old. The attitude of most of these females is that this is my job, I know that this (separation) will happen. I miss my baby but I raised my right hand. The males have the same attitude. Those few women (and men) who try to play the baby card don't last long.

The other part of the equation is that the AF has a policy that requires a legal structure for the care of the children involved. The AF also provides many services and outreach to the spouse remaining at home with the child (ren). More than a few of these spouses are also military.

In fact, AF dau notes that those who are deployed seem to have more services & programs available to them than the single ones!

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 12:12 PM

Product of a working mom: true.

The dems for the most part think that the military is useless - however, it's pretty much the only thing that congress has control over that they are supposed to have control over - and a strong military is a necessity. Just thinking you want peace isn't going to make it so.

re: the 90s - re end of cold war - yup - (and I'm not a repub) the dems thought: let's take those billions and spend them elsewhere...let's gut the military. So they've been gearing up, and do a good job, but it does take time.

The lady who does storytime at the library has a daughter and son in law in the military so she will most probably be taking their 2 YO child when they go to be deployed - but them's the breaks. That's one reason I'm not usually upset in any way with the benefits military fams receive (no, it's not the best life, but it's a necessity and no, they are not perfect and no they don't get paid enough - but most people don't - yet they get pretty good perks after service...)

Posted by: atlmom | May 28, 2008 12:14 PM

"I do know that, Fred"

Oh, that's right. Old Fred is uh getting old!

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 12:17 PM

The very definition of 'Socially conservative" (if you want to believe wikipedia) is the following:

Social conservatism is a political or moral ideology that affirms behaviors associated with a culture's traditions.

As a conservative, who is married to a male conservative, and belongs to many, many conservatives groups, I know not one conservative that would keep a woman in a traditional gender role. The very definition of conservatism has to do with individual rights and responsibilities, not per gender.

Again, perhaps all of you that know so many "true conservatives" should ask them what a social conservative is, because if they mention traditional gender roles, they are not true conservatives. True conservatives are the true Civil Rights fighters, plase learn your history.

Laura, your arguement falls apart.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 12:20 PM

to 12:20 - then please explain what a true conservative believes. Affirming behavior with a culture's 'traditions' sure sounds like something that would mean that 'true traditional roles' are what a conservative would want. Why, that's what the word conservative MEANS - someone who wants to CONSERVE or preserve a certain way of life - the way things have always been. Conservatives are people who don't want much change.

So please, enlighten us with the 'truths' of conservative.

Cause Dr. Laura would tell you right on that she is 'conservative' and she ALWAYS says the little lady should stay home with the kids - even if it's quite impractical.

Posted by: atlmom | May 28, 2008 12:26 PM

altmom - you got it. The military tried hard to structure forces for the best possible mobilization but who could have predicted troop presence in two major theaters? As for the VA, the structures and support that younger veterans need (Gen Y cultural issues) is different than old veterans. Even the GI Bill can not keep up.

My friend (of the 3 mo. old twins) had her mother come help her husband while she was deployed. He had gotten out of service so that they would not be a two military career family. Every lifestyle requires choices and trade-offs.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | May 28, 2008 12:26 PM

Actually, Enkafiles did say that: "= *more likely* to be openly hostile and/or harassing toward women (this includes crude humor) and, in extreme cases, assault and rape them."

The step from disagreeing with the presence of women in the military to harassing and physically attacking them is a big one. In my experience, harassment and assault are not about political views but about an individual's inability to respect others' integrity and act appropriately. It is an individual failing that I have seen occur across the political spectrum.

Just to throw more anecdotes into the mix (hey, why not? And I know this is a minor example compared to what we are talking about here), I was the first female employee in a setting that was dominated by older, conservative men (many ex-military). Many of them felt I didn't belong there and women couldn't do the job, and told me so in no uncertain terms. But they never harassed or touched me in any inappropriate way, and in fact were far less likely to use crude humor or swear words around me than the other guys. The two men who did harass me in the time I worked there were simply inconsiderate jerks with personal issues. By then we had long gotten past the question of whether women belonged there (as it was clear that we could do the job just fine) and it was really just about those two individuals.

Suggesting, as Enkafiles did, that socially conservative men are more likely to harass, assault and rape women is essentially saying those men categorically have a harder time moderating and restraining their own behavior and showing respect to others, which I think is a huge logical leap. I think the question of management and chain of command and how standards are set and enforced is much more the relevant issue than the theoretical conservatism (however you want to define that) of the people serving.

Posted by: LizaBean | May 28, 2008 12:27 PM

Not surprised by the report. I was active duty enlisted. Women were treated like we were an entirely different species. I repeatedly experienced deliberate, unwanted physical contact even in front of the senior enlisted staff up my chain of command - and when I finally protested, it was I who was transferred elsewhere. It was general consensus regardless of where I was stationed to be labeled a lesbian if I wasn't married or sleeping with a man.
I wanted to serve a lifetime but after my enlistment term ended I took the honorable discharge and never looked back.

To this day I believe women in uniform are entitled to combat pay regardless of where they are stationed.

Posted by: Veteran - woman | May 28, 2008 12:30 PM

I was getting ready to post, but even as an active duty military spouse, I couldn't have put it better than Fred just did.

He clearly stated that currently no one is "forced to leave three month old twins -- or other young children -- to serve their country." We have an all volunteer military. Each and every one of them has pledged, on their own, to serve they country.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 12:30 PM

POAWM: yeah, it's not so easy. Of course, if our esteemed congress didn't keep subsidizing industries where prices are at their peak (um, farming) then perhaps we'd have enough for what we need it for.

In the past, the military has been designed to fight two 'skirmishes' at once - but that had been dismantled, and clearly, there is a time frame where it would take to make it work.

My BIL is in the army, he signed up right after 9/11 to, ahem, 'get' the arabs, and he did not go in as an officer, which they begged him to do (he has a BS) - he went to OCS just last year, after two tours. He'd be going back in a few months, but he has something wrong with his back so he can't carry the armor - in a few months, they will reevaluate and then see if he can have a health related discharge. It seems most of the family is hoping for the discharge - when I say he's in Iraq or been to Iraq or whatever, my family always seems sad. Well, certainly there are risks, but he signed up for them - AND someone has to go. If you're for the war, but only for it for people you don't know - well, then, really, where are your ideals/ethics/whatever the right word is.

If you are for the war, and think we need to be there, then someone needs to go. It's really that simple.

Posted by: atlmom | May 28, 2008 12:31 PM

Altmom, The last vestige of the conservative hater, bring out Dr Laura! Everyone will rally, right? Sorry.

I am still laughing at the assertion that conservative people do not want change. I'm sorry, if you can't see the ridiculousness of your arguements, or do some very elementary research, I can not help you. Seek and ye shall find my friend.

You are getting conservative principles, which have yet to outlined (more forthcoming) confused with the perception of conservatives. I don't judge people on perceptions, but perhaps you do.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 12:35 PM

having worked on a trading floor, well, let's just say there aren't many women there and fewer places (like, say, the military) where 'male prowess' is so, um, out there. I mean, seriously, there were few women, and many of those there were the AAs. Well, so I was surrounded by 'boys' who I had to show, every day, that I could do the job. Well, that's the way it goes, really. When there were serious incidents (like the stripper who was on the floor) there were reprimands, but no one got fired. I had to deal with it, never thought anything of it, having been surrounded for the most part by men given my career choices.

Yes, working towards a better situation is great, and wonderful, but takes TIME. Lots of TIME. Like, a generation. When blacks were first in the army, it took lots of getting used to being integrated, so I hear (baseball too!). Many things take a generation or more. I mean, my kid's grandmother grew up during segregation in the south - and who woulda thunk that my kid (whose teacher is black) would come home almost crying when learning about who MLK, jr was and why he did what he did.

So, hopefully, it's getting better (and studies like these will help to show that, over time) - but I wouldn't think anyone is surprised.

I mean, my dad, who never saw ANY action in the military, said he wasn't for women in combat situations because it would give way to too much - how you have to be there and willing to die for your armymates (what's the right word?) - and so having mixed infantries would make things way more complicated than they should be. I think it's a valid argument - so much training needs to happen, but seriously, when you spend so much time at work - then romances happen (seriously - who doesn't know about people who date or are married where they work?).

Posted by: atlmom | May 28, 2008 12:39 PM

12:20: think you're arguing semantics. You are what most people would probably think of as a libertarian conservative, one who seeks to defend traditional individual freedom of behavior against an expanding government. That's a fine use of the term. But it's not unreasonable also to refer to social conservatives as conservatives, given Burke's arguments about the necessity of preserving the fabric of tradition and his skepticism of a narrow emphasis on individual rights. Probably he would have seen traditional gender roles as part of that fabric.

Posted by: lurker | May 28, 2008 12:40 PM

@altmom: Even being a visitor (as I was in vendor capacity) to a trading floor is eye opening. Everything that happens on a US floor is 10 times as pronounced in Europe. Don't miss it in the least.

Posted by: POAWM | May 28, 2008 12:47 PM


I agree with you that the assault and rape issues are due to "management and chain of command and how standards are set and enforced" in the military and not personal values. As OldBAM said, "[...] fear of being arrested, demoted or fined for my 'insubordination'." - some of that structure is still around.

The hostile work environment, however, is there the minute you have to work with someone who believes you should not be there.

But from what some of the military, former military (and family-of-military) posters have said today, it seems to be, very simply, that these resistance-and-acceptance issues/processes are normal and that the military work environment for women is just a couple of decades behind the civilian workplace, just because they got started there later, but that the development is positive.

Posted by: enkafiles | May 28, 2008 12:50 PM

BTW, it was President Truman in 1947 who intergrated the military.

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 12:51 PM

Assume we're all stupid and Google-challenged. Please enumerate what "conservatives" are so that we all can be on the same page. I would consider myself and my circle of friends (and I'm a woman) to be "conservatives" -- I tend vote Republican, don't like most of what Democrats or "liberals" stand for, and I try to practice what I preach. That means in my house, my husband is the breadwinner and I stay at home with the children. He is the head of household, not me. I don't feel limited or confined by my choices. And I'm not really excited about most "change" that comes down the pike, because to me it seems like "change" is inevitably for the worse. But I don't confuse conservatism with Republicanism. What atlmom wrote seems pretty reasonable to me. (A reasonable conservative! Alert the papers!)

Posted by: To 12:35 | May 28, 2008 12:52 PM

Well, according to Wikipedia (if you trust that, anonymous):

Present Social Conservative Issues in the United States:
* pro-life views on abortion
* promotion of heterosexual marriage, and disapproval of sexual immorality
* protection of key American industries like defense, certain raw materials, and agriculture from foreign competition
* focus on stronger families and not big government for teaching values
* prison reform that focuses on rehabilitation through education and labor
* opposition to federal financing for embryonic stem-cell research
* protection of 2nd Amendment rights (that's the one with "the right of the people to keep and bear arms.")
* protecting the continuation of the family farm
* opposed to illegal immigration
* reducing and/or reforming welfare for the poor and needy
* greater financing for education
* lower taxes with spending focused on education, defense, and infrastructure
* placement of tariffs on countries that do not uphold human rights
* allowing for the teaching of creationism in schools

And not to be confused with fiscal conservatives.

Posted by: enkafiles | May 28, 2008 12:58 PM

to 12:52, Congratulations on your family situation, what does an agreement between you and your husband have to do with a political movement? Obviously you two made a decision that works for your family.

I agree that change for change sake is bad news, some principles are tried and true. It is the assumption that your husband (an conservative, no?) would balk at a woman co-worker, boss or colleague because they are a woman and want to change the environment to keep it male only. That makes him a chauvinist, not a conservative.

Susan B. Anthony admired the conservative movement, Frederick Douglass as well, because it was based on the individual and their rights, not their race or gender.

Everybody gets Republicans and conservatives mixed up, same with liberals and Democrats. I ask, which party is having issues with women and race in the primary process? Certainly not Republicans.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 1:05 PM

You still haven't answered. You've said a lot about who agrees with conservatives, and you've said what conservatives are not (e.g., chauvinists), but you haven't said what they ARE. Do you not know? Or can you not refute what others have posted?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 1:45 PM

My 2 cents:

True conservatives first and foremost believe in the Constitution. Limited gov't, strong individual rights, strong national defense, capitalist economy.

No gender roles, although many social conservatives are comfortable with traditional roles, it does not mean they expect other's to live the same.

Posted by: another view | May 28, 2008 2:04 PM

I served in the AF from '82 to '86.

I was the victim of a rape attempt during tech school - I emphasize the word *attempt* because I haven't had the same experience as my sisters in uniform who weren't lucky enough to escape from their attacker. I can't speak for anyone but myself.

My escape was mostly due to luck, although the stories of incredible feats of strength under severe stress ring true to me - I've never before or since picked up a grown man and thrown him off me while I was flat on my back, nor have I otherwise hurdled 4-foot fences like I did while running away from my attacker.

I was subjected to other harassments while I served, as well. I have no problems with the figures of 30% rape rate and 70% sexual assault rates. If anything, I would wonder if the statistics might be a bit low.

Having said that, my chain of command were enlisted men and male officers who consistently treated me with respect, nurtured my budding career (or at least their hope that I would also choose to make Air Force service a career), and greatly appreciated my job skills. I had a group of big brothers looking out for me like they would for a smart and talented little sister.

Harassers tended to cheat on their wives, make crude jokes - one taught me the value of being able to "swear like a sailor" because he'd shut up when I was more crude and vulgar than he was - and didn't believe women "belong in my Air Force".

They taught me to fight (verbally, not physically), to stand up for myself and get into people's faces when they don't act right, and not to back down. There was never any suggestion that I was a lesbian, but I suspect I had a well-earned reputation as a b@llbuster.

So, those were the dual roles that got me through - little sister to decent men, and a b@llbusting b!tch to those who weren't.

Posted by: Sue | May 28, 2008 2:26 PM

Leslie thinks its "barbaric" and "totally unAmerican" for a woman but only "pretty harsh" for a man to abandon their children for an indefinite period of time.

And then wonders why there's so little respect for males as SAHDs and paternity leave and all that?

If you want women to really get the full respect and response, then stop treating them like a special class of people. Of course it's wrong for any service person not to get the care they need and to be violated and our society continues to raise men to be violaters and so this problem continues to be a big one.

But they won't respect the problem until they respect the people involved. And they won't respect the people involved until it's obvious this isn't 'special treatment.'

And that won't happen until Leslie and the world stop saying that mothers have strong bonds than fathers.

Posted by: Liz D | May 28, 2008 3:30 PM

Sue, thanks for sharing. I am sorry about your experiences but proud of how tough you are. As you say, others are not always so lucky.

Separately, this whole "define what conservative" means made me laugh. My kids recently asked me to explain what "a conservative" was. It was surprisingly difficult to explain, especially in child-appropriate terms!

Posted by: Leslie | May 28, 2008 3:40 PM

It is simple. A conservative doesn't want change and a liberal wants change. The irony seen so many times comes into play when said liberal does not respect said conservative's opinion. The phrase 'so liberal they are conservative' comes to mind. Or 'my way or the highway'

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 3:47 PM

so there are 6 inpatient women program and 22 stand alone centers for less than 200,000 women enlisted. what are the comparable numbers for the men?

Posted by: bonni | May 28, 2008 3:50 PM

Do people really think that sexual harassment is more prevalent in the military than in engineering shop or a hospital operating room?

Posted by: KLB SS MD | May 28, 2008 4:02 PM

"A conservative doesn't want change and a liberal wants change."

Oh thanks, that one lines explains it all, this is put to rest now!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 4:12 PM

I've been harassed in civilian jobs too.

The differences I saw between civilian and military - I wasn't usually the only woman in a civilian office, but I was often the only female in any group of military personnel. The military guys were less used to having any females in their presence, and some didn't know how to react to me at all.

The civilian harasser was an equal opportunity offender - all the women in the office got the same treatment from him. If I'd had a dollar for all the times I walked into the ladies' room to find one of my coworkers in tears, I could have retired.

I couldn't toughen-up the other women in that office (and I didn't try, just let them cry on my shoulders), and my tough attitude ultimately cost me that job. Managers don't respond well to a woman who *keeps* coming back and complaining over and over. They were particularly unhappy with me on the 5th or 6th complaint, when I told them that if the harasser "puts his hands on me one more time, I'll deck him." And then the company would be facing multiple lawsuits: from me for the hostile work environment, and from the harasser for the physical assault in the workplace (he was the type to do this).

Women have been in the civilian workplace for longer, and in greater numbers than in the military. So, the military being behind on the learning-curve seems obvious to me.

Posted by: Sue | May 28, 2008 4:44 PM

"A conservative doesn't want change and a liberal wants change."

Ha! It depends on the change, my friend. People on both ends of the political spectrum strongly want to change what they perceive to be wrong.

For example, everybody wants to change our immigration system and the structure of our social security system.

Conservatives would love to change our system of federal taxation.

Liberals want to keep affirmative action and minority set-asides unchanged.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 4:45 PM

Wow, I'm just getting back to this after a very busy day. I think some valid points were made on all sides, but one must remember that the military is NOT the civilian sector. Yes, progress has been made. Yes, women do better now and have access to more ratings (jobs). But the bottom line is that the job of the military is to fight, and to support those who do so. There are no weekends off in theatre, and there will always be separations and deployments. I served with many women (and men) who faced prolonged separations from their families. Some left the service, some stayed. But we all made our choices as best we could. Shorter rotations out of theatre may be nice to contemplate, but they may also compromise the job (and that may mean lives lost). I stand by my statement that some women want special treatment. So do some men. But SOME women take advantage of their gender. It's not a popular opinion. I'd love to be convinced of the contrary. But I have yet to be so convinced.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 28, 2008 5:02 PM

I can tell you from the hospital OR standpoint that a civilian OR is more likely to have sexual harassment problems than a military one. In the military, you can order someone to stop. In the civilian side, you may have to employ a judicious scalpel.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 28, 2008 5:04 PM

FWIW, those women who wanted to serve and raise their children usually went into the Reserves...until the Reserves began to be recalled more often. Then they faced the same dilemmas. I saw similar issues in Desert Shield/Storm, when childfree professors of nursing in the Reserves were adamant about refusing to be recalled. They were perfectly happy to take their Reserve pay during peace time, but when the Recall notices came out, suddenly they were being asked to do too much. They were recalled anyway, and somehow they all survived.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 28, 2008 5:08 PM

I spent time on active duty and then in the reserves and retired after 23 years.
I was activated during Desert Storm as were many other women (and men) in my reserve unit. It was totally random as to who stayed stateside and who went over to the big sandpile but some people had the nerve to look at me as someone without kids and say that I should have gone instead of a mother. I felt like babys1 - if they took the same pay they took the same responsibility/chance of deployment.

Posted by: KLB SS MD | May 28, 2008 5:28 PM

Posted by: babsy1 | May 28, 2008 5:02 PM

Posted by: babsy1 | May 28, 2008 5:04 PM

Posted by: babsy1 | May 28, 2008 5:08 PM

Couldn't agree more with babsy1. And considering babsy is (or was I forget) actually in the military her sentiments are clearly more accurate than the usual idiotic statements Leslie is spewing.

And Leslie is absolutely disgusting to bring up the horrific aspect of rape and the horrors that our military women AND MEN experience with the challenges of raising a family. They are not the same and logistics around solving those issues and should NEVER be grouped together. They are not one in the same.

As many have pointed out we have a volunteer military and as someone who has worked around the military (including women in the military) my whole career there ARE women who chose to serve this great country with pride and accept the deployments from their family and then there are those that use their family status to keep them from doing any sort of job that could be viewed as being difficult i.e. staying past normal base hours. When you are in the military you have the possiblity of being on duty 24/7/365.

Posted by: Disgusted | May 28, 2008 5:32 PM

So this is kind of a trivial comment and late in the day, but I'm curious if any of you with experience in the military have read any of the Doonesbury strips dealing with military sexual trauma and, if so, what you think of them.

Posted by: LizaBean | May 28, 2008 6:31 PM

Babsy1 and Disgusted,

You would not be surprised to know how much of what you said that AF dau said in our conversation this morning.

As she said to me this morning, when you raise your right hand, you are saying duty and country first. I love my baby and spouse but I know that at some point I will have to go.

Being in the military requires a different mindset than we have, sitting in our air conditioned offices having scones and tea at 10 a.m.

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 6:36 PM

Being in the military requires a different mindset than we have, sitting in our air conditioned offices having scones and tea at 10 a.m.

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 6:36 PM

Amen Fred.

Posted by: Disgusted | May 28, 2008 7:01 PM

I absolutely loved that series of Doonsbury strips.

Posted by: Sue | May 28, 2008 7:04 PM

I'm with babsy, KLB, Fred's daughter and all the rest who said when you agree to serve you do it without conditions. I was in HS for desert storm/shield and I remember the media angst about calling up reserves, loss of pay from their "normal" jobs, etc. If you accept the check in peacetime you accept in wartime. Was I lucky that it never was my dad? Yes. Do I know it could have been. H-E-double hockey sticks yes. My dad was assigned to the DMZ in Korea when I was 5 and got out of the service before he could have been called to Bosnia.

FWIW, the military does take sexual assualt seriously from where I sit. I have been contractor and civilian and the installations I have been on actively publish a sexual assault telephone number to call and the procedures for reporting to your chain of command.

Posted by: POAWM | May 28, 2008 7:10 PM

Another set of Doonesbury strips is also apropos here. Many years ago Jeff, Joanie and Rick's son, was considering applying to the Naval Academy. On the application was a checklist, identifying a number of places and situations where you'd refuse deployment. At the end of the list, it said "if you checked any of these boxes, don't send in your application."

Fred (speaking for his daughter), babsy1, KLB and many others have made the point very eloquently today, and I really wish that Leslie would learn this. We have an all-volunteer military. Nobody is forced to join. However, once you do join, you accept the rules and you live by them.

If the military decides that X number of people need to deploy to Afghanistan, then some process is applied to determine who goes (and a rotational system is put in place if it takes a long time). To say that women with 3-month old babies don't have to go means that somebody else does. Somebody else gets to be apart from his/her family; somebody else gets to go die or get maimed in that woman's place. Is that fair to that person?

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to pay our final respects for Sergeant Snorkel. Sergeant Snorkel's children are all teenagers, so he was sent back to Afghanistan for his fourth tour, and his luck finally ran out. We are glad to have with us today Sergeants York, Smith and Lugg, who should have gone but they all had young children and Sergeant Snorkel was sent in their place."

You really wanna try to defend that, Leslie?

If you don't want to be sent off on long deployments, don't volunteer for the military.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 8:34 PM

"Leslie, I take great offense to your post on how the military can bend to accomodate everything, person, situation. It is your complete and utter lack of understanding of anything military related that makes this topic so easily dismissive when moderated by someone like you."

I agree. This topic is typical Leslie- take statistics and inflate them out of context and then whine about why the "system" is anti-female and must change. Oh, and it has nothing to do with balance, as usual.

Posted by: more of the same | May 28, 2008 9:11 PM

Hey Guys! Stop beating up Leslie so much. I think that she picked a great topic today. Her column brings out some excellent issues that need thoughtful comment and action. One that deserves more comments than Leslie is being typical Leslie. Although, I have taken issue with some of her subsequent comments, I think that she has learned a few things today.

I have had my share of battles with the VA for my brothers and myself. Bad enough being a guy to get what you have earned out of the VA, worse being a girl. I have talked to more than a few female vets that the VA has failed completely.

As for active duty, again, it is tough enough to be anybody and be deployed. But it is even worse when you have some asshat trying to trip you up just because you are female. AF dau has run into a couple like that. Fortunately, or maybe because the times, they are a changin' she has had more of the big brother types taking care of little sister as Sue describes. But also she does her job damn well as witnessed by her promotions, her commendations and the commander's coins that she has been given.

When she deployed to the Middle East last year, she went with a team of 10 guys and 4 girls. I think the oldest was 25. One of the girls had a 5 month old and a couple of the guys had little babies too. For the six months, they all hung together as a team, watching out for each other. All came back safely. Now this is the meaning of Espirt de corp. This is the model for how members of the armed forces perform together.

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 9:57 PM

BTW, I hope that we are having scones at the office tomorrow!

If not, I am sure that I can find a donut or two.

Posted by: Fred | May 28, 2008 10:08 PM

fr OldBAM:

>...Supervisors, however, were another story. One supervisor grabbed my backside and said I shouldn't wear such tight jeans (tight jeans are an invitation to be grabbed? Who knew?). Same supervisor looked me right in the eye during a performance review and stated that women do not have the mental capabilities to understand higher mathmatics. During the time he KNEW I was acing Calculus in my college classes at night...<

He had NO right to do that to you, and I would have decked him, right then and there AND filed sexual harassment charges, 20 years ago or not. I would have also sued him for everything he had.

Posted by: Alex | June 2, 2008 5:03 PM

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